Fell #1 Review

Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Ben Templeton
Published by: Image Comics

When you examine the great Brits, you come away with clear demarcations of de-re-constructed territory. Moore is the serious occultist, Morrison is the counter-culture surrealist, Gaiman loves the fantasy, Ennis does hard-boiled horror, and then you have Warren Ellis. For the most part, Ellis does the modern mythos; he re-invented the superhero team with his run on Stormwatch; did it again with The Authority; and yet again with Global Frequency. Of those English-types, he’s the one who does the most science fiction, and he’s the one whose pattern is easiest to predict. His protagonists will generally speak in smart, hip, and cynical one-liners, defy authority, and kick a lot of ass. Look at Transmetropolitan, Lazarus Churchyard, Planetary, and Desolation Jones – he’s essentially writing the same antihero into different scenarios.

When Ellis is completely into a project, he’s awesome, but when it’s a side project, he’s often a little off the ball. Strange Kiss and Red were enjoyable reads that were also unfortunately immediately forgettable, as was Ministry of Space and any number of his other little mini-series. So it was a real pleasure to encounter Fell, probably the freshest thing that Ellis has done in years.

Rich Fell is a young detective looking to make a name for himself in Snowtown, an isolated city where the whole place is the wrong side of the tracks. Upon moving into his new digs, he encounters a fatality being removed from a neighbor’s apartment. The new widow claims her husband drank himself to death while mumbling about her Jesus-love, which you’re meant to think that Fell dismisses. If you did, you’d be dead wrong, ’cause Fell doesn’t dismiss anything. He’s clearly of the Sherlock Holmes school – highly observant and analytical, never tossing away an observation. This is all demonstrated when he pretty much tells a bartender he’s just met the story of her life. She invites him home, tells him about how Snowtown “claims” people, and then brands him with the local tag. Outside the crazy’s apartment, he meets the daughter of the deceased, gets a piece of interesting info, and walks in to solve the case – the solution most of you will never see coming, I guarantee.

I said earlier that this is the freshest Ellis in a few years, and I want to emphasize that. He’s working with a type of characterization that he hasn’t run into the ground, and doing it with constraints that are forcing him to tell detective stories quickly but effectively (single issues that have fewer than 22 pages). This cuts down on the grandstanding, pin-ups, and one-liners which have kind of plagued multiple Ellis books for years. As a result, we get a great story without frills but with that distinct Ellis flavor. It’s like Warren Ellis as a lite Beer that actually is “less filling and tastes great.” The end has an interesting twist (taken from a real case that occurred, of all places, in my home town), and while the whole issue takes up fewer pages than your standard comic, the story is complete in its own self-contained way. Ben Templeton (30 Days of Night) does a totally bang-up job with the art too – moodily colored, quick and sketchy lines, and communicating just enough information in 9-panel pages to tell a story. It’s whiz-bang work on both Ellis and Templeton’s parts, and it deserves a wide circulation.